New Stories is a Seattle-based trio that loves to work with guests. Marc Seales (piano), Doug Miller (bass) and John Bishop (drums) made six albums with the late bebop saxophonist Don Lanphere, another with singer Mark Murphy (Grammy-nominated Song for the Geese) and four under their own name. Telling all kinds of new stories, they've worked with Tom Harrell, Nick Brignola, Slide Hampton, Jon Faddis and Larry Coryell.
Speakin' Out recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, recorded with guest Ernie Watts in 1999. The West Coast saxophonist deserves the co-billing on the cover, because he really raises the temperature on this date. Watts, who turns 75 this month, is a national treasure worth discovering. For two decades, he was buried in The Tonight Show band and spent 25 years as a relatively anonymous studio musician in L.A. Watts has been making up for lost time since the mid '80s, playing straightahead jazz with the fire of a much younger man. Listen to him negotiate the tricky head on Miller's title song and then rip off a high-energy solo with growls, upper-register cries and low-down whispers. Watts (who survived Buddy Rich tours) appears on five of the nine tracks. On Miller's "Apparitions" he's in a pensive mood and gives a master class in translating yearning to a reed instrument. Miller, great throughout, has a fine probing solo as well. "The Jordy Strut" (another Miller piece) is funky soul-jazz recalling Horace Silver and Cannonball Adderley. Remember when they said stuff like this was "selling out"? There's nothing at all wrong with the material that doesn't feature Watts, but he adds a lot. Pat Metheny's "In Her Family" shows off Seales' melodic, Bill Evans-influenced style. He's a fine pianist, with compositional chops showcased on "Blue" and "Highway Blues". The former is also a strong showcase for both Seales and a burning Watts. It's nice to see this album get a second trip 'round the park. It's meaty work, featuring a saxophone player who sounds glad to be back in his native element.